Community Campus hopes to answer local businesses need for qualified employees

In 2015, after the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce annual membership survey was completed and analyzed, the primary need for member businesses growth remained the same — a lack of qualified applicants for available positions.

Candance Brake, president and CEO of the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce said that this need was the catalyst for the creation of the Community Campus, a workforce development program for high school students attending Apollo, Daviess County and Owensboro High Schools.

The Chamber identified the jobs in highest demand were coming from trades (construction and electrical), professional and customer service, welding, advanced manufacturing, healthcare and aviation in the region.

“We kept hearing the same thing from business owners and managers — ‘I could grow my business in two years if only I had the people to fill the job needs,’” Brake said. “We have so many opportunities in our community for these students.”

The Owensboro region is the largest in the state without a high school-only career and tech center, although Kentucky Community and Technical College System provided these services on two local campuses. KCTCS has now consolidated into Owensboro Community and Technical System and serves high school students in technical programs for dual credit.

Brake said several changes in admission requirements led to decreased enrollment in technical areas and limited or eliminated students’ ability to begin career and technical studies in high school.

According to Brake, workforce development, partnered with economic development, higher education and the specific needs of employers, results in more efficient use of public resources.

Community Campus, a hybrid, locally-funded area technology center model now exists at each high school. Courses for grades 9 and 10 are taught at the respective schools, while the advanced curriculum in grades 11 and 12 is taught at either one high school academy or OCTC.

Brake said that through meetings with OCTC, OPS and DCPS over three years, the initiative leaders knew this program could grow the community. She said that she does not know of another community who has an initiative similar to Community Campus and she has met with people at the federal level.

“We could be a model program,” Brake said.

With the Kentucky Department of Education’s acceptance of the plans for staffing and budgeting, new staff positions were necessary but they will be spread out over three years.

OCTC teacher Gary Hanan is new to Community Campus. He retired from teaching industrial arts, specifically woodworking, in Indiana, but now is teaching basic carpentry classes and hopes his carpentry students will take a test at the end of the course for a national carpentry assistant certification.

Hanan hopes the community comes together to help his students when it comes time for them to apply for an apprenticeship locally.

He has been making community connections, including Habitat for Humanity. His students will build a shed that will go to each new home. He also hopes to reach out to area contractors to come to speak to his students about future employment.

Hanan also hopes that site visits at local construction sites will be available for his students so they can experience different phases of the building process.

“Anytime you can give a kid a chance to look at something – even if it isn’t what they want – it’s an advantage,” Hanan said. “I am limited on what I can expose them to.”

Hanan’s 40 carpentry students are currently making birdhouses, and they are selling to the community to raise money for celebrations within the program.

Hanan’s long-range goal is to have students who take a second year of carpentry be in an apprenticeship program through a connection with a local contractor.

“We’ve all heard of people needing skilled workers,” Hanan said. “It would be beneficial for the student.”

Brake said that the opportunities provided by the Community Campus provide a pathway for students seeking technical employment after completing the program, and that one of the missions of the Chamber is to help members fill jobs.

“Chamber members make big picture opportunities possible and create an opportunity for every business,” Brake said. “We [the Chamber] are the connection. The schools make it happen, but we are the ones who connect them with the businesses.”

By Marls Mason  originally published in The Owensboro Times